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Dec 4, 2021 - 6:12:11 PM
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14 posts since 7/5/2013

I have a Vega Martin banjo, with resonator, that I've had forever and love a lot. I don't know what model it is but it has what looks like a rolled brass tone ring. (I'll attach a photo) It has a lot of bite on the highs and sounds really good, but the mids and especially lows aren't so great.

So my first question is, what would be involved if I want to modify this tone ring? I was considering a tubaphone tone ring, or maybe a flathead. I've worked on instruments a lot but I've never messed with tone rings. Would I need to cut into the wood of the pot to make it work? Would I have to modify the hardware as well (other than the ring)?

My second question is, my banjo has a 10 15/16 pot. So assuming this is doable, can I find a quality 10 15/16 tone ring? I read an older thread that sometimes you can have it custom make one for you, or find an old Vega pot (I haven't had much luck with this) that already has those dimensions. But I'm not sure where to look.

I'm not set on this but I've been thinking about it. Is it possible, and would it improve the sound much, or should I just leave it as is? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.


Dec 4, 2021 - 6:22:11 PM
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beegee

USA

22570 posts since 7/6/2005

There are a couple of obvious things i would do before trying to change the tone ring.

Dec 4, 2021 - 6:48:32 PM

Damnjoe

USA

14 posts since 7/5/2013

quote:
Originally posted by beegee

There are a couple of obvious things i would do before trying to change the tone ring.


Could you maybe give me some direction? Thanks for the reply.

Edited by - Damnjoe on 12/04/2021 18:57:02

Dec 4, 2021 - 7:18:15 PM
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14436 posts since 10/30/2008

The model is most likely the "Wonder" model. I have one very like it EXCEPT mine doesn't have an electric pick up mounted inside it. Are you referring to tone when playing acoustically, or using the pick up and amp?

If you want better acoustic tone, remove that pick up!

You are right this model doesn't have a true "tone ring". You'd need to find someone experienced with a lathe to cut the wood rim to make room for a Tu Ba Phone tone ring. If you can find one to buy. Stew Mac used to sell a decent Whyte Laydie type tone ring. Unsure about a Tu Ba Phone.

Between finding a tone ring and someone to cut the wood rim, you might want to instead focus on finding a used Vega or Vega by Martin Pro or VIP model, which has a Tu Ba Phone ring already. They sell for around $1000 or so.

Get rid of that pick up and see if that helps the tone. Then do other set up work like head tightness, bridge thickness, tailpiece angle and string gauges.

Dec 4, 2021 - 9:09:12 PM

Damnjoe

USA

14 posts since 7/5/2013

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

The model is most likely the "Wonder" model. I have one very like it EXCEPT mine doesn't have an electric pick up mounted inside it. Are you referring to tone when playing acoustically, or using the pick up and amp?

If you want better acoustic tone, remove that pick up!

You are right this model doesn't have a true "tone ring". You'd need to find someone experienced with a lathe to cut the wood rim to make room for a Tu Ba Phone tone ring. If you can find one to buy. Stew Mac used to sell a decent Whyte Laydie type tone ring. Unsure about a Tu Ba Phone.

Between finding a tone ring and someone to cut the wood rim, you might want to instead focus on finding a used Vega or Vega by Martin Pro or VIP model, which has a Tu Ba Phone ring already. They sell for around $1000 or so.

Get rid of that pick up and see if that helps the tone. Then do other set up work like head tightness, bridge thickness, tailpiece angle and string gauges.


Hey thanks for the good advice. Okay, a Wonder. When I look at the Wonders they're all a little different. I've seen some similar ones but they're never quite the same as mine.

I didn't used to have a pickup on it and it sounded a little better. But it doesn't have as big of an effect as you'd think. When I use a mic or other pickups I get too much feedback. I was talking about the tone in general, but yeah, acoustically.

I was planning on refretting it and getting a different tailpiece. But I've set it up, changed heads, tried different strings, etc. over the years. (I've never messed with bridge width). It's got a good sound but I was just wondering what it would sound like  with a real tone ring. You have a good point about the VIP or Professional, if I could find one. But I kind of like my banjo.

Stew Mac's Whyte Laydie ring is 11". I can't really even fit an 11" head on my banjo, so that wouldn't work. Unless there is a company that makes custom rings, the only thing I can think of is checking around for old Vega tubaphone pots. Whyte Laydie might work too. 

Thanks for all your help. I guess at the least I would need a tone ring that fits it and a lathe.

Dec 4, 2021 - 11:42:48 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25523 posts since 6/25/2005

A tonering installation requires not only finding the right sized ring, but also turning the shell so it fits. You’ll doubtless get specific advice from others on that.

Dec 5, 2021 - 4:08:45 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15036 posts since 8/30/2006

I think the Martin Vegas are more scarce. Cutting the rim and changing tone rings is one option. I haven't read anything like that here.

Yes, it looks like solid roundstock. But red brass pipe is very nice and can be rolled. I would then drill some "trumpet holes." That would help relieve the pressure built up by playing.

This looks like a shoe and plate, try to keep the same specs with different material would be my suggestion.

Good luck finding an off-size tone ring.

Dec 5, 2021 - 5:44:10 AM
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14137 posts since 6/29/2005

I would get rid of the clear head and the pickup. That would make it sound better right away.

Dec 5, 2021 - 5:56:46 AM
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9176 posts since 8/28/2013

Fitting a tone ring would be difficult, requiring proper tools (mostly a lathe) and finding a ring that actually fits, and it's quite likely you may not even like the results as much as you do the current configuration. I'd leave things alone rather than risking making this a banjo you may not like. Remember, once a rim's been cut, there's no going back.

If you haven't experimented with bridge width, thickness, and weight, that would be one thing that may actually improve the mid and low ranges. It's rather amazing what different bridges can do. That's where I'd start.

Dec 5, 2021 - 6:05:04 AM

4643 posts since 3/6/2006

I have a 20's Regent with basically the same Wonder style tone ring that at one time I considered modifying (which meant cutting the rim) to accept a Tubaphone tone ring, but I came to my senses, concluding that the tone quality of the Wonder ring isn't significantly different than that of the Tubaphone, just not quite as loud. As has been suggested, I think changing the head and removing the pickup is the best approach. My head preference having owned and played a number of 20's Vegas for 58 years would be a Remo frosted top.

Dec 5, 2021 - 6:49:56 AM
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266 posts since 8/25/2009

About a decade ago, I noticed the~40 year old Grover bridge on my Fairbanks Electric was looking kinda shabby.  For cosmetic purposes, I replaced it with a Snuffy Smith, that Janet Davis had on sale ($19.95).  I was shocked at the improvement in tone.  Bridges are cheap and easy and they can effect large improvements.  

Bart Veerman has a fine website, and he has different woods and bridge designs to make bridges to achieve any tone you can describe.  Take a look at his website, before doing anything irreversible.

Oops, when I looked for the link, yahoo gave me http://www.haruteq.com/ which is "under construction".  Also, it didn't ring any bells (I kind of remember something like "BridgesByBart.com").  I hope Bart is OK  -getting one of his bridges is on my bucket list.  

Good Luck,

Bill 

 

 

P.S. While Bart Veerman would be my first choice, there is a true cottage industry in "boutique" banjo bridges.  I expect that you can find  one there to suit your taste.

Good Luck,

Bill 

Edited by - Half Barbaric Twanger on 12/05/2021 06:57:52

Dec 5, 2021 - 7:04:22 AM
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400 posts since 11/29/2012

I agree with all the advice from those with more experience than me who posted the previous advice. The Wonder tone ring is great...exactly the same ring as a 100 yo Vega Regent. Smakula carries 10 15/16 heads. The Renaissance head will give a fuller tone. The Kershner tailpiece that's on you banjo does alot for that too. Using medium gauge strings. Definitely ditch the clear head and pickup. I play a Folk Professional and a Folk Wonder, both 10 15/16" open backs from the early 60's, same construction as your Martin Vega. I use hide heads on both in the humid South. They work great too. I use Liberty Bearclaw tailpieces on both, but an old ODE or a Kershner would be my next choices. Gruhn has a beater early 60's Folk Professional. And Ceres Banjos on here just sold a Vega Pro II resonator. Earl Scruggs Model Vega banjos also show up--almost the same banjo. All three of those have Tubaphone rings. But Vega Wonder and Folk Wonder banjos are great!

Edited by - 35planar on 12/05/2021 07:05:59

Dec 5, 2021 - 9:33:06 AM
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6657 posts since 9/21/2007

My advice is to sell this and buy a banjo you like the sound of.

Dec 5, 2021 - 9:58:52 AM

Damnjoe

USA

14 posts since 7/5/2013

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Fitting a tone ring would be difficult, requiring proper tools (mostly a lathe) and finding a ring that actually fits, and it's quite likely you may not even like the results as much as you do the current configuration. I'd leave things alone rather than risking making this a banjo you may not like. Remember, once a rim's been cut, there's no going back.


Assuming the tone ring has the same thickness, and if the tension hooks are long enough, couldn't I mount the new tone ring on the banjo before cutting the rim to see what it sounds like? I mean, it wouldn't be playable but couldn't I string it and see what an open chord sound like? I'm not sure how much rim would need to be cut.

Definitely I agree with you about the bridge, I'll start looking into that more. I put a good bridge on it, this was what I bought it with, but maybe it's more about how it's cut.

Dec 5, 2021 - 10:15:40 AM
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Damnjoe

USA

14 posts since 7/5/2013

quote:
Originally posted by 35planar

I agree with all the advice from those with more experience than me who posted the previous advice. The Wonder tone ring is great...exactly the same ring as a 100 yo Vega Regent. Smakula carries 10 15/16 heads. The Renaissance head will give a fuller tone. ... Gruhn has a beater early 60's Folk Professional. And Ceres Banjos on here just sold a Vega Pro II resonator. Earl Scruggs Model Vega banjos also show up--almost the same banjo. All three of those have Tubaphone rings. But Vega Wonder and Folk Wonder banjos are great!


The head I have on it right now is actually from Smakula. I had a frosted Renaissance head on it that was thicker (and a little too big). It was a little deeper sound, but my banjo lost all its bite. Bill Rickard wrote me back and said he might have some 15/16 tone rings. That still doesn't necessarily mean they'd fit perfect, but I assume he has good quality tone rings, so that's a possibility.

My whole thinking on this is that I like my banjo, it sounds pretty good, but just wondering if it could be better. If the main difference between a Professional or VIP or something like that and my banjo is the tone ring, that could be a simple way to get a really good sound that's deeper and louder and still has bite. I do bluegrass, but also a lot of other stuff. There are some really nice newer and older banjos out there. I like some of those Vega long neck banjos, or Deering has some really good new open back banjos with a tubaphone ring, but they're not cheap and my banjo is good. 

Anyway, I'm not set on it, just thought I'd ask the opinion of people who have done this or know more about it, and see if it's worth the work or if it would really improve the banjo much. I've built guitars before and am good with wood, but never messed with tone rings. Thanks to everyone so far for your help.

Dec 5, 2021 - 10:27:29 AM
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Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

1392 posts since 10/15/2019

I'm afraid if you start down this road you'll end up with a damaged rim and a pile of parts that will never go back together. You like the banjo as is. Keep it. If you want to explore other tone rings, buy other banjos with other tone rings.

Dec 5, 2021 - 11:09:09 AM

4009 posts since 5/1/2003

30 yrs ago I wanted to do the same thing you do. Had a ‘67 Vega wonder. I found a “mastertone style ring that was actually a 42 oz Asian ring. I had Bill Sullivan cut my rim down and somehow the 10 15/16” tension hoop fit over that 11” ring and it worked.
If I had known then what I know now I’d have had Bill fit a “pro” rim and tone ring. I’m sure I’d still be playing it today.
My suggestion would be to do much the same. I’d Have Eric Sullivan make a torrified block rim with woody flathead or even an arch top configuration.
Trust me it will sound great!

Dec 5, 2021 - 11:24 AM
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rcc56

USA

3917 posts since 2/20/2016

Fitting a tone ring is a job for an expert who has plenty of experience and the right equipment.

The first thing I would do with your banjo is to get rid of that compensated bridge.  Those bridges are heavily made, and are sound killers.  There are several good bridge makers selling their wares for $20 or so.  Then remove the pickup and see how it sounds.

There's nothing wrong with a Vega/Martin Little Wonder. While it's not a high dollar instrument, it's nowhere near being a piece of junk.  Get it set up well, you might be very happy with the results. If it's still not satisfying enough, look for a Tubaphone with a conversion neck. They can be found for $1500 +/-. Then, if you want to sell your old banjo, it will be easier to sell because it will sound better.
Don't risk tearing it up trying to turn it into something else. 

Dec 5, 2021 - 12:04:42 PM
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11933 posts since 10/27/2006

The Vega Professional size specs a 27" scale and an 11" pot. In real life, the scale varied from 26 3/4 to 27 1/4 but the pots were consistent from around 1915 when Waverly began making the rings, stretchers, bracket bands etc. and eventually the pots themselves for Vega. By the '30s, no other sized pots were available. Martin and later Deering kept the 10 15/16" size till around 1998 when Greg ran out of NOS Waverly bracket bands and stretchers etc. When he made the decision to re-tool, Deering Vegas went to 11" (he always made the Tubaphone rings himself and didn't teach anyone else till after the move to 11").

Waverly was out of business by the time of the Martin acquisition of Vega (no doubt a big factor in the decision to sell). When Martin ran out of Waverly Tubaphone rings, my sources tell me that they went to Frank Neat who supplied CFM with new ones.

Frank Neat Banjos

When CFM needed to re-tool, they offered a new line of Vegas with metal supplied by Galaxy Trading at the 1979 NAMM show and they didn't get many orders, they sold Vega to Galaxy who had the banjos made in Japan, later Korea with 11" pots.

You have a Waverly made pot that CFM got with the sale, BTW. It's possible that Vega made the whole banjo but I would need to see more pictures to know this.

So, you have a number of options, one is to contact Rickard, Neat or Deering and see if someone will make a one-off 10 15/16" Tubaphone ring. Those are the three people who know how. BTW, yours should be chrome plated. You will have to cut down the rim for it to fit.

Finding someone to make a 10 15/16" flathead ring should be more difficult but an 11" pot assembly with a shoe/plate flat flange is readily available so just do a rim swap. 

I'd buy a 1960s–'70s Vega or Martin Tubaphone if that's what you really want and sell (or keep) the banjo you have.

Like MainJohn, I like these. The Wonder goes back to the Regent and has a nice, throaty sound — different from the sparkle of the Tubaphone but in no way inferior. I like the head nice and tight head on these. Deering sells this banjo new as the Senator so there is a market if you offer enough information.. 

Edited by - mikehalloran on 12/05/2021 12:24:04

Dec 5, 2021 - 12:20:54 PM
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rcc56

USA

3917 posts since 2/20/2016

A nice Tubaphone conversion in the classifieds for $1300:

http://www.banjohangout.org/classified/80101

There's also a couple of others.  Go to marketplace and select Vega.
 

Edited by - rcc56 on 12/05/2021 12:21:40

Dec 5, 2021 - 12:37:14 PM

11933 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by rcc56

A nice Tubaphone conversion in the classifieds for $1300:

http://www.banjohangout.org/classified/80101

There's also a couple of others.  Go to marketplace and select Vega.
 


Although the seller is misinformed about a few details—this neck cannot have been made by Vega (scale, woods, inlays and headstock wrong) and the pot size is 11 13/16", it does appear pretty good for the price. I sent him an email on Reverb.com a couple months ago.

People interested in these really want the details right or explanations and a low price if they aren't.

Dec 5, 2021 - 2:48:44 PM

rcc56

USA

3917 posts since 2/20/2016

Mike, I don't see this banjo on Reverb. Anyway, the seller states that he is "not educated on these old Vega banjos" and is still researching the instrument. At any rate, $1300 seems reasonable for a conversion, no matter where the neck came from.

To put the price in perspective:
A new Gold Tone Tubaphone costs more.
A pre-war Vega #3 Tubaphone original 5-string will cost $3000 +/- depending on the condition and other details.
A new Deering/Vega Tubaphone costs even more [if they're making them this year]. Current list price from their website is $4299.

Dec 5, 2021 - 3:08:18 PM
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9176 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Damnjoe
quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Fitting a tone ring would be difficult, requiring proper tools (mostly a lathe) and finding a ring that actually fits, and it's quite likely you may not even like the results as much as you do the current configuration. I'd leave things alone rather than risking making this a banjo you may not like. Remember, once a rim's been cut, there's no going back.


Assuming the tone ring has the same thickness, and if the tension hooks are long enough, couldn't I mount the new tone ring on the banjo before cutting the rim to see what it sounds like? I mean, it wouldn't be playable but couldn't I string it and see what an open chord sound like? I'm not sure how much rim would need to be cut.

Definitely I agree with you about the bridge, I'll start looking into that more. I put a good bridge on it, this was what I bought it with, but maybe it's more about how it's cut.


Short answer: NO! 

Longer answer: There is no way you could mount a tone ring properly without cutting the rim, and even if you could, removing the wood later would alter the sound.

Dec 5, 2021 - 3:28:29 PM

Damnjoe

USA

14 posts since 7/5/2013

quote:
Originally posted by mikehalloran

You have a Waverly made pot that CFM got with the sale, BTW. It's possible that Vega made the whole banjo but I would need to see more pictures to know this.

So, you have a number of options, one is to contact Rickard, Neat or Deering and see if someone will make a one-off 10 15/16" Tubaphone ring. Those are the three people who know how. BTW, yours should be chrome plated. You will have to cut down the rim for it to fit.

Thank you Mike, this is really good information. I put up a couple more photos, not sure if that helps identify it. I had to switch out the original tailpiece and tuners. I bought this banjo 20 years ago, it was my first banjo, and I got it because it had bite. I never had a reason to buy another. Deering's pretty expensive, even if they had time for it. Maybe Rickard or Neat could make it happen. Putting in a new tone ring would still be cheaper than a new banjo.




Edited by - Damnjoe on 12/05/2021 15:30:28

Dec 5, 2021 - 3:48:38 PM

Damnjoe

USA

14 posts since 7/5/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Half Barbaric Twanger

 

Bart Veerman has a fine website, and he has different woods and bridge designs to make bridges to achieve any tone you can describe.  Take a look at his website, before doing anything irreversible.

You're right, Veerman's site is down for the moment, but you can still get find at least some of his bridges on Elderly. Bridges are pretty easy to make though, it's just a matter of finding the right wood. Compensated bridges are a little harder - I bought the one that's on it. This is getting off topic a bit, but I was looking into the difference between thin and thick bridges. I guess thick bridges give more bass but can make it dull if too thick. Might be something to mess with. Thanks for your help.

Dec 5, 2021 - 4:04:29 PM

11933 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Damnjoe
quote:
Originally posted by mikehalloran

You have a Waverly made pot that CFM got with the sale, BTW. It's possible that Vega made the whole banjo but I would need to see more pictures to know this.

So, you have a number of options, one is to contact Rickard, Neat or Deering and see if someone will make a one-off 10 15/16" Tubaphone ring. Those are the three people who know how. BTW, yours should be chrome plated. You will have to cut down the rim for it to fit.

Thank you Mike, this is really good information. I put up a couple more photos, not sure if that helps identify it. I had to switch out the original tailpiece and tuners. I bought this banjo 20 years ago, it was my first banjo, and I got it because it had bite. I never had a reason to buy another. Deering's pretty expensive, even if they had time for it. Maybe Rickard or Neat could make it happen. Putting in a new tone ring would still be cheaper than a new banjo.


When you get the chance, post the inside of the pot where the neck attaches and the back of the neck itself. I'm fairly certain that you have one of the completed banjos that CFM acquired in the sale but the back of the neck will tell me more.

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